Paul Balavender, O&G’s General Counsel and Assistant Secretary, began his sixteen-year association with the company with what bookmakers would call long odds.
It was 2000. Balavender was enjoying his career as Director of the Office of Enforcement Policy and Coordination for the then-named Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. His team pursued companies who were operating out of compliance with environmental laws, restoring order across “multiple media” – media being air, water and waste.
One day in December he found himself across the table from O&G ownership and counsel: Ray Oneglia, Ken Merz and attorney Greg Sharp from Murtha Cullina. They had been called in to remedy out-of-compliance issues. “Most companies fought us tooth and nail because penalties and getting back into compliance can cost a lot of money,” says Balavender. The company “pushed back hard” against the allegations and penalties so it set him on his heels when Oneglia announced O&G’s position going forward. “To Ray’s credit he said, ‘We’re going to do whatever we need to do to bring the company into compliance and keep it there.’ DEP’s Commissioner was pleasantly surprised that O&G was willing to invest in three rounds of independent third-party audits to willing to invest in three rounds of independent third-party audits to assure future compliance. That made a very favorable impression on me as well.”
Excellent outcome, case resolved and Balavender happily went on restoring environmental order until the phone call about three years later. “I hear, ‘This is Ken Merz. Remember me?’ I had to laugh, ‘Of course Ken, how could I forget?’ So Ken said, ‘This is going to be a different kind of conversation.’ ” It seemed that O&G was similarly impressed and was looking to hire him, and that’s how Balavender became O&G’s General Counsel. The specialist at DEP became a generalist at O&G, called on for legal advice in the company’s corporate matters, which he learned quickly are exceptionally diverse.
Among other things, he reviews real estate transactions and project contracts, particularly for highway work. He’s involved in OSHA and MSHA issues and compliance (MSHA is a sister agency to OSHA, safeguarding mine workers). Managing environmental compliance with Matt Dmyterko and Greg Nadeau remains a sizable piece of what he does, “making sure we go beyond compliance where we’re able.”
And just how Paul Balavender switched gears and became a lawyer is another story of long odds. With his final year of high school approaching, he was floating toward the future with the unsure and uncommitted. The eldest of his four brothers was a physical therapist. “He loved it so why wouldn’t I?” he grins, recounting the logic. Fast forward to 1980. With a fresh PT degree from Quinnipiac College, he hopped a plane with another PT buddy and flew to the Khao-I-Dang Holding Center at the Thai-Cambodia border. They were answering a call to help thousands upon thousands of blown-up and otherwise broken refugees who, against long odds, had escaped the bloody Khmer Rouge takeover. “It was the best ten months of my PT career. We saw everything and we worked on everything. We were helping a lot of really hurting people.”
But once back in America, employed at a hospital outside Boston, it was dawning on him that he hadn’t the passion he’d need to make PT a life-long career. Aptitude testing told him he was better suited for a number of other things, the law being one of them. So he headed off to The George Washington University Law School in D.C. Three years on, Balavender was a new husband married to Kathleen, a new dad with the first of their three children, and a new lawyer. He found work with the Connecticut DEEP and stayed there for 15 years. Within a few months after joining O&G, DEEP’s new Commissioner, Gina McCarthy (who later became EPA Administrator in the Obama administration) asked him to head its Office of Legal Counsel. But returning to the DEEP was a non-starter. “Leaving O&G that soon wouldn’t have been right,” he says, and smiles, “so I stayed and made myself uncomfortable in all these areas that are out of my environmental comfort zone.” And so he remains today, navigating the new challenges and thriving.